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Published on March 15, 2019

Meeting the Challenges of Senior Care via Telemedicine

The challenges in senior care are many, from ever-changing regulations to attracting qualified workforce to ensuring the satisfaction of residents and their families with quality care and service.

Administrators, nurses and direct caregivers in long-term care and assisted living centers may feel there’s simply not enough of them to go around.

That’s where virtual care can step in to offer cost-effective resourcing and expertise that’s specific to the needs.

"We’ve found that not all needs across the various facilities we serve are the same and so we tailor our services and offer a variety of different services and service packages to meet the specific needs of a given customer," said Joshua Hofmeyer, Avera eCARE Senior Care Officer.

Avera eCARE®, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., is a world leader in telemedicine services, offering comprehensive health care services 24/7 via high-definition, interactive video and sophisticated computer monitoring equipment across numerous platforms, including Senior Care, Emergency, Pharmacy, ICU, Specialty Clinic, Hospitalist, Behavioral Health, School Health, Correctional Health and more.

Avera eCARE Senior Care currently serves 70 sites in seven states and is expanding further. A full menu of services includes:

  • A geriatrician-led interdisciplinary team: This team includes board-certified geriatricians, certified nurse practitioners, geriatric-trained pharmacists, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, licensed social worker and RNs with gerontological certification. "While 15 percent of our population is comprised of older adults, only 0.025 percent of physicians are geriatricians," Hofmeyer said. "This level of specialty care results in fewer emergency room visits and unnecessary hospitalizations, reducing the cost of care by 10 percent per year."
  • Long-term care and assisted living: Services offered within facilities include urgent care visits with a medical provider and RN support 24/7 plus many other add-on options including behavioral health, pharmacy services, advance care planning support, and care transition support.
  • Medical directorship: This program provides medical directorship by a physician licensed in the pertinent state as required by law. This program goes above and beyond the traditional medical director services and offers services that meet the customer needs and regulatory requirements. 

Virtual visits are easy for local staff to arrange. They simply move the telemedicine cart into the resident’s room and connect. "We found that 90 percent of the time, these needs can be handled virtually, right in the resident’s room, without an expensive and uncomfortable transfer to a clinic or emergency room," Hofmeyer said. Such visits can address needs early, for example, before an upper respiratory illness advances to pneumonia.

The long-term care program offers 24/7 access to the entire team of experts, helping to triage needs and address concerns as they arise, resulting in higher quality care and lower expenses.

The assisted living service helps universal workers who have someone to call on with questions or concerns. "It also helps the RN who doesn’t have to take calls around the clock, and helps the community – preventing calls to EMS to cover immediate needs," Hofmeyer said.

"For example, if a resident falls and can’t get up on their own, they must be assessed by an RN before the staff can help that person get back up. We’re able to provide these services virtually, in a short time frame, 24-hours a day," Hofmeyer said.

Medical directorship is another need of long-term care centers that can be filled virtually.

Often in small communities, local physicians do not have the time or the desire to serve as a medical director of the long-term care facility. Even if one is willing to serve in this role, he or she might not have the resources or time to actively engage.

The eCARE Senior Care medical director not only fulfills the minimum requirement that a medical director be in place. The virtual medical director, via interactive video, attends quality meetings, helps identify issues and develop plans for improvement, assists with regulatory surveys, and serves as a resource for staff. While the virtual medical director may visit in person occasionally, most interactions take place via camera. "We try to do as much as we can virtually – that’s who we are," Hofmeyer said.

"Our results validate that we’re meeting these important needs through Avera eCARE Senior Care," Hofmeyer said.

  • 90 percent rate of treatment in place instead of transfers out of the facility
  • Reduced costs. "We conducted a pilot project through a three-year Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation award. We showed that we could save $342 per beneficiary per month," Hofmeyer said.
  • 98 percent of residents say they would recommend eCARE services
  • 97 percent of staff rate eCARE as excellent

"If we are not in a given state yet, that’s just because we haven’t yet had the opportunity to serve there. When we enter a new state, our team becomes licensed in that state so we can perform medical services and prescribe medications virtually," Hofmeyer said. "Our program is growing and we have several strong leads where we will likely be in place within the near future."